In the 16 short years since Roy Rivera Jr. ’02 graduated from Southwestern University, he has earned several postgraduate degrees, including a master’s and doctorate of physical therapy and a Ph.D. in health studies with an emphasis on community and population health. He is currently the CEO and director of rehabilitation at Crōm Rehabilitation in Houston, Texas, a practice bringing care to approximately 6,000 patients. His commitment to professional excellence has won him numerous awards, including being the Patient’s Choice Winner among OpenCare’s top 10 physical therapists of 2015 in Houston. According to longtime friend Juan Tovar ’98, Rivera’s “academic achievements and professional accolades are a testament to his desire and dedication to spread his expertise and knowledge to benefit those in need and those seeking a desired profession within the medical community.”

Rivera’s dedication to his profession extends to teaching continuing-education courses for graduate students and professionals. He has served as a faculty member for Cross Country Education, providing approximately 180 courses and reaching 3,600 physical and occupational therapists in 48 states in just five years. “Dr. Rivera is engaging, empowering, and knowledgeable,” says Julie Leos, who first met Rivera at the National Hispanic Institute’s 1997 Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session at Southwestern. “[His] methods for classroom teaching and ability to reach his audience [are] among the most successful classroom experiences I’ve had the opportunity to see in my career. I feel strongly about the need for great educators in every field and am proud so many people had the chance to learn from him.”

Rivera found his passion while serving the Southwestern community in 2001. After graduating at the top of his high school class in the Rio Grande Valley, Rivera came to Southwestern as a Dixon Scholar with the intention to become a dentist. He even founded the Pre-Dental Society. But those plans all changed one day when Rivera came back to Moody–Shearn after volunteering at Georgetown’s own Ride On Center for Kids (ROCK), where he provided equine-assisted activities to improve children’s mobility issues. Friend and Southwestern roommate Michael Nguyen ’03 recalls, “I remember Roy very clearly declaring that he found his life’s work in helping others gain something most of us take for granted: the ability to move freely and comfortably within their bodies.”

Given his intense passion and energy, it’s no surprise that Rivera gives back to the community in many ways. He is the preferred provider for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program through the Legacy Community Health System in Houston, which provides comprehensive care for uninsured or underinsured patients living with HIV. In addition, he serves on the Board of the Houston Tennis Club, a nonprofit organization promoting GLBT athletic competition in tennis, and sponsors fundraisers to benefit Hatch Youth, an organization dedicated to empowering lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, and allied (LGBTQIA) youth. He is also a member of the Houston Greater Heights Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Rivera has been a strong advocate for the Southwestern Experience, supporting Latinos Unidos students on campus and mentoring current Southwestern students who are considering a career in physical therapy.

To say that Rivera has saved lives is no exaggeration. In 2016, he was given the honor of leading a medical response team at the Houston Marathon, a position historically reserved for medical doctors. In 2017, his quick thinking and response saved the life of one man who collapsed just a block from the finish line.

Described lovingly by his mother, Nellie Rivera, as “a caring, intelligent, and most ambitious young man” with “great respect and love for family,” Rivera has achieved success after success in his chosen career path. But his family and friends will tell you that the caregiving heart he brings to his work is the same heart that was stolen by Isabella, a little girl he was treating at a rehabilitation center where he worked. After working with her for months, Rivera grew to love the little girl and decided to adopt her. During the adoption process, Rivera was working as a physical therapist, completing his Ph.D., and teaching, but father and daughter overcame all obstacles to become a devoted family.

Because he personifies Southwestern’s core values in his chosen career every day, the Southwestern University Alumni Association warmly presents Dr. Roy Rivera Jr. with a 2018 award for Distinguished Professional.